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Celeste Austin

Social Worker/Non-Profit Program Staff

I proudly identify as an African American lesbian who is “out” (most of the time), in recovery, and passionate about many social justice issues. These include homelessness (housing as a basic right), Black Lives Matter, LGBTQI, Women Rights (reproductive freedom), Racial Equality and Immigration Rights. I stand with many people and FOR many just causes.

At a very young age, I found myself befriending and standing with the less popular kids at my elementary school who were not included in regular play or were being bullied. I also befriended those kids who looked different or didn’t have decent clothing. I started doing activism as a teenager, meeting and talking with white people who did not know much about African-American folks or the black community that I grew up in. I was born in Waterloo, Iowa (yes there are black folks in Iowa) and grew up on the eastside of town where a river and a rail-road track separated folks by race, class and education, to mention a few things. When I was 16 years old, I got on a school bus with 12 other black kids to participate in an “Open Enrollment Program” at Malcolm Price Laboratory School. I did not necessary go to that school because it was a private school, connected to the University of Northern Iowa, but because they had an “open dress code” which meant that girls could wear pants to school. As a young confused lesbian, I liked that “open dress code” a lot because I did not like wearing dresses and could wear pants every day. (Free at last)

I also had a wonderful opportunity to spread my wings in political activism by attending Iowa American Auxiliary Girl’s State where I talked my way into being elected Lt. Governor, which made my parents proud (and me too). This was a big deal for a black girl in 1969 from the east –side of town. Political activism is natural for me because of my passion for change and engagement, sometimes by any means necessary. When I was attending Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, I made myself comfortable in the President of the University’s office, along with some other black students, in an effort to get a Black Cultural Center on campus. We needed a place of our own to meet, share stories and food and create cultural events to feed our souls.

I am honored to be one of those people in our community to whom other activists reach out, picking my brain on important issues or just inviting me to the table. Some of these longtime activists are white, some black; several are straight, others gay and several ministers from open and affirming churches in our community. Connecting with people, building coalitions across various communities and being an ally to those in need are important strengths that I hold dear to my heart.   

Press Articles:

The Living Room lifts spirits of Sonoma County’s homeless, Press Democrat | January 26, 2017

Celeste Austin '73 builds a life working with the homeless, Luther Alumni Magazine | Spring 2017

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